EducationIssuesLocal NewsTaxes & SpendingConcerns Over Transparency, ‘CRT’ Shape Local School Board Elections Across Texas

From high-dollar diversity plans to mundane building bonds, voters are watching longstanding school projects with new suspicion.
November 8, 2021
After closures of bars, amusement parks, and sporting events, the newly heightened drama of school board meetings may well be the least predictable effect of the pandemic.

Early coverage from around the state suggests that disagreements over values shaped voters’ decisions regarding school policy, even in some budgetary choices, during the November elections. Leery of plans to pursue race-conscious learning more rigorously than traditional academics, parents around Texas voted down proposals that whiffed of diversity and equity measures and supported candidates who billed themselves as opponents of critical race theory.

Elections at the Carroll Independent School District (ISD) dealt with the topic most directly. National media attention also made the district’s diversity plans perhaps the most prominent in Texas.

Since the summer of 2020, the district has fought to advance its “Cultural Competence Action Plan,” a diversity initiative with an estimated $1.4 million price tag that includes training for students as well as staff in both racial and LGBT issues. The plan was halted by a court order as part of a lawsuit alleging that board trustees discussed the plan in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Running on a platform of opposition to the plan, Andrew Yeager won his election to the school board by a margin of more than 30 percent. In raw numbers, Yeager garnered 6,150 votes, almost double his opponent’s total of 3,254.

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The race drew remarkable turnout. Carroll ISD trustees serve three-year terms, and in the 2018 election, not a single seat on the ballot cracked more than 1,500 votes total.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, one of the biggest school districts in the state, saw similar trends on Tuesday. Previously, parents had alleged that critical race materials were being used to train both students and staff, including a video that says “anyone, to be blunt, that is not a white male” may suffer from the detriments of unconscious bias.

The board also passed a “Resolution Condemning Racism” in September 2020 that called for an “equity audit” and swore to target “systemic racism.” A contract the district signed with Millennium Learning Concepts for an “equity analysis” came with an estimated $75,000 price tag.

Tension came to a head on election night when a self-proclaimed slate of conservative candidates swept the races, replacing three incumbents.

Like Carroll ISD, Cy-Fair ISD’s turnout jumped up since the last race, though not as high. The candidate that won with the fewest votes still surpassed the highest winning turnout in the previous election.

Alongside explicit disagreement over how districts handle diversity initiatives, ideology influenced more mundane decisions as well in some areas of Texas.

Officials don’t know yet how much of the $10.8 billion of proposed local debt Texas voters approved on Tuesday. However, local coverage shows that voters around the state rejected normally popular school bond proposals — in some cases linked to “equity” — even while supporting bonds in other areas of local government.

In both Fort Worth and Athens, voters approved major city or county renovations while rejecting school district bond measures, surprising administrators in the process.

As with any issue, cramming far-flung local decisions into the same mold can be dangerous. Not every bond election boiled down to suspicion of schools. Voters in Comal County, for example, approved bonds to pay for new technology and teacher pay but rejected two bonds that both would have funded athletic facility renovation.

However, mounting mistrust clearly kept some parents from voting ‘yes’ to debt.

The second-largest proposed school bond in the state failed on Tuesday with some Leander voters explicitly citing critical race theory as the reason for their opposition. One political expert credited a similar ideological conflict for the failure of school bonds in Fort Worth. Administrators in Judson ISD framed their bond, which voters rejected, as an issue of “equity.” Although the average bond proposal in Texas has a high probability of passing, voters from Temple to Santa Fe refused to fund school projects on Tuesday, with one Temple ISD administrator speculating that the district’s “community engagement” process turned more citizens away than the fiscal nuts and bolts of the bond itself.

Rather than just the issue of race, local coverage of bond elections suggests that new scrutiny of school boards stems from a more specific trend of parents seeking transparency. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board observes: “The pandemic opened a new window into school performance and practices, and parents in many places are angry at what they see.”

Whether or not parents’ attention will wane with the pandemic remains to be seen.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.